On Enjoying Disagreeable Company

by Alicorn7 min read26th May 2010254 comments

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Relationships (Interpersonal)Heuristics & BiasesHappiness
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Bears resemblance to: Ureshiku Naritai; A Suite of Pragmatic Considerations In Favor of Niceness

In this comment, I mentioned that I can like people on purpose.  At the behest of the recipients of my presentation on how to do so, I've written up in post form my tips on the subject.  I have not included, and will not include, any specific real-life examples (everything below is made up), because I am concerned that people who I like on purpose will be upset to find that this is the case, in spite of the fact that the liking (once generated) is entirely sincere.  If anyone would find more concreteness helpful, I'm willing to come up with brief fictional stories to cover this gap.

It is useful to like people.  For one thing, if you have to be around them, liking them makes this far more pleasant.  For another, well, they can often tell, and if they know you to like them this will often be instrumentally useful to you.  As such, it's very handy to be able to like someone you want to like deliberately when it doesn't happen by itself.  There are three basic components to liking someone on purpose.  First, reduce salience of the disliked traits by separating, recasting, and downplaying them; second, increase salience of positive traits by identifying, investigating, and admiring them; and third, behave in such a way as to reap consistency effects.

1. Reduce salience of disliked traits.

Identify the traits you don't like about the person - this might be a handful of irksome habits or a list as long as your arm of deep character flaws, but make sure you know what they are.  Notice that however immense a set of characteristics you generate, it's not the entire person.  ("Everything!!!!" is not an acceptable entry in this step.)  No person can be fully described by a list of things you have noticed about them.  Note, accordingly, that you dislike these things about the person; but that this does not logically entail disliking the person.  Put the list in a "box" - separate from how you will eventually evaluate the person.

When the person exhibits a characteristic, habit, or tendency you have on your list (or, probably just to aggravate you, turns out to have a new one), be on your guard immediately for the fundamental attribution error.  It is especially insidious when you already dislike the person, and so it's important to compensate consciously and directly for its influence.  Elevate to conscious thought an "attribution story", in which you consider a circumstance - not a character trait - which would explain this most recent example of bad behavior.1  This should be the most likely story you can come up with that doesn't resort to grumbling about how dreadful the person is - that is, don't resort to "Well, maybe he was brainwashed by Martians, but sheesh, how likely is that?"  Better would be "I know she was up late last night, and she does look a bit tired," or "Maybe that three-hour phone call he ended just now was about something terribly stressful."

Reach a little farther if you don't have this kind of information - "I'd probably act that way if I were coming down with a cold; I wonder if she's sick?" is an acceptable speculation even absent the least sniffle.  If you can, it's also a good idea to ask (earnestly, curiously, respectfully, kindly!  not accusatively, rudely, intrusively, belligerently!) why the person did whatever they did.  Rest assured that if their psyche is fairly normal, an explanation exists in their minds that doesn't boil down to "I'm a lousy excuse for a person who intrinsically does evil things just because it is my nature."  (Note, however, that not everyone can produce verbal self-justifications on demand.)  Whether you believe them or not, make sure you are aware of at least one circumstance-based explanation for what they did.

Notice which situations elicit more of the disliked behaviors than others.  Everybody has situations that bring out the worst in them, and when the worst is already getting on your nerves, you should avoid as much as possible letting any extra bubble to the surface.  If you have influence of any kind over which roles this person plays in your life (or in general), confine them to those in which their worst habits are irrelevant, mitigated, or local advantages of some kind.  Do not ask for a ride to the airport from someone who terrifies you with their speeding; don't propose splitting dessert with someone whose selfishness drives you up the wall; don't assign the procrastinator an urgent task.  Do ask the speeder to make a quick run to the bank before it closes while you're (ever so inconveniently) stuck at home; do give the selfish person tasks where they work on commission; do give the procrastinator things to do that they'll interpret as ways to put off their other work.

2. Increase salience of positive traits.

Don't look at me like that.  There is something.  It's okay to grasp at straws a little to start.  You do not have to wait to like someone until you discover the millions of dollars they donate to mitigating existential risk or learn that their pseudonym is the name of your favorite musician.  You can like their cool haircut, or the way they phrased that one sentence the other week, or even their shoes.  You can appreciate that they've undergone more hardship than you (if they have, but be generous in interpreting "more" when comparing incommensurate difficulties) - even if you don't think they've handled it that well, well, it was hard.  You can acknowledge that they are better than you, or than baseline, or than any one person who you already like, at some skill or in some sphere of achievement.  You can think they did a good job of picking out their furniture, or loan them halo effect from a relative or friend of theirs who you think is okay.  There is something.

Learn more about the likable things you have discovered.  "Catch them in the act" of showing off one of these fine qualities.  As a corollary to the bit above about not putting them in roles that bring out their worst, try to put them in situations where they're at their best.  Set them up to succeed, both absolutely and in your eyes.  Speak to any available mutual friends about what more there is to like - learn how the person makes friends, what attracts people to them, what people get out of associating with them.  Solicit stories about the excellent deeds of the target person.  Collect material like you're a biographer terrified of being sued for libel and dreading coming in under page count: you need to know all the nice things there are to know.

It is absolutely essential throughout this process to cultivate admiration, not jealousy.  Jealousy and resentment are absolutely counterproductive, while admiration and respect - however grudging - are steps in the right direction.  Additionally, you are trying to use  these features of the person.  It will not further your goals if you discount their importance in the grand scheme of things.  Do not think, "She has such pretty hair, why does she get such pretty hair when she doesn't deserve it since she's such an awful person?  Grrr!"  Instead, "She has such pretty hair.  It's gorgeous to look at and that makes her nice to have around.  I wonder if she has time to teach me how to do my hair like that."  Or instead of: "Sure, he can speak Latin, but what the hell use is Latin?  Does he think we're going to be invaded by legionaries and need him to be a diplomat?" it would be more useful towards the project of liking to think, "Most people don't have the patience and dedication to learn any second language, and it only makes it harder to pick one where there aren't native speakers available to help teach the finer points.  I bet a lot of effort went into this."

3. Reap consistency effects.

Take care to be kind and considerate to the person.  The odds are pretty good that there is something they don't like about you (rubbing someone the wrong way is more often bidirectional than not).  If you can figure out what it is, and do less of it - at least around them - you will collect cognitive dissonance that you can use to nudge yourself to like the person.  I mean, otherwise, why would you go to the trouble of not tapping your fingers around them, or making sure to pronounce their complicated name correctly, or remembering what they're allergic to so you can avoid bringing in food suitable for everyone but them?  That's the sort of thing you do when you care how they feel, and if you care how they feel, you must like them at least a little.  (Note failure mode: if you discover that something you do annoys them, and you respond with resentment that they have such an unreasonable preference about such a deeply held part of your identity and how dare they!, you're doing it wrong.  The point isn't to completely make yourself over to be their ideal friend.  You don't have to do everything.  But do something.)

Seek to spend time around the person.  This should drop pretty naturally out of the above steps: you need to acquire all this information from somewhere, after all.  But seek their opinions on things, especially their areas of expertise and favorite topics; make small talk; ask after their projects, their interests, their loved ones; choose to hang out in rooms they occupy even if you never interact.  (Note failure mode: Don't do this if you can feel yourself hating them more every minute you spend together or if you find it stressful enough to inhibit the above mental exercises.  It is better to do more work on liking them from a distance if you are at this stage, then later move on to seeking to spend time with them.  Also, if you annoy them, don't do anything that could be characterized as pestering them or following them around.)

Try to learn something from the person - by example, if they aren't interested in teaching you, or directly, if they are.  It is possible to learn even from people who don't have significantly better skills than you.  If they tell stories about things they've done, you can learn from their mistakes; if they are worse than you at a skill but use an approach to it that you haven't tried, you can learn how to use it; if nothing else, they know things about themselves, and that information is highly useful for the project of liking them, as discussed above.  Put what you know about them into the context of their own perspective.

Note general failure mode: It would be fairly easy, using facsimiles of the strategy above, to develop smugness, self-righteousness, arrogance, and other unseemly attitudes.  Beware if your inner monologue begins to sound something like "He's gone and broken the sink again, but I'm too good and tolerant to be angry.  It wouldn't do any good to express my displeasure - after all, he can't take criticism, not that I judge him for this, of course.  I'll be sure to put a note on the faucet and call the plumber to cover for his failure to do so, rather than nagging him to do it, as I know he'd fly off the handle if I reminded him - it's just not everyone's gift to accept such things, as it is mine, and as I am doing, right now, with him, by not being upset..."

This monologuer does not like the sink-breaker.  This monologuer holds him in contempt, and thinks very highly of herself for keeping this contempt ostensibly private (although it's entirely possible that he can tell anyway).  She tolerates his company because it would be beneath her not to; she doesn't enjoy having him around because she realizes that he has useful insights on relevant topics or even because he's decorative in some way.  If you don't wind up really, genuinely, sincerely liking the person you set out to like, you are doing it wrong.  This is not a credit to your high-mindedness, and thinking it is will not help you win.

 

1 A good time to practice this habit is when in a car.  Make up stories about the traffic misbehaviors around you.  "The sun is so bright - she may not have seen me."  "That car sure looks old!  I probably wouldn't handle it even half as well, no wonder it keeps stalling."  "He's in a terrible hurry - I wonder if a relative of his is in trouble."  "Perhaps she's on her cellphone because she's a doctor, on call - it then would really be more dangerous on net if she didn't answer the thing while driving."  "He'd pull over if there were any place to do so, but there's no shoulder."  Of course any given one of these is probably not true.  But they make sense, and they are not about how everybody on the road is a maniac!  I stress that you are not to believe these stories.  You are merely to acknowledge that they are possibilities, to compensate for the deemphasis of hypotheses like this that the fundamental attribution error will prompt.

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Dear Tech Support, Might I suggest that the entire Silas-Alicorn debate be moved to some meta-section. It has taken over the comments section of an instrumentally useful post, and may be preventing topical discussion.

Can somebody nonpartisan give us the Cliff's Notes of the whole mess? I tried reading it. Then I tried skimming it. It seems to rely on some whole pre-existing unpleasant dynamic between several commenters of which I am currently blissfully unaware, and it also looks quite seriously dull.

It also looks pretty damn childish, despite having lots of fun mature-sounding rationalist words. A silly playground arguments is still a silly playground argument.

Are we really going to do this kind of thing on LessWrong now? Nothing is going to turn away non-committed members quite like a huge load of tedious, irrelevent drama on a front page post. I myself am, at this moment, feeling a moderate urge to say "welp, looks like LW has gone to shit now, oh well, thanks internet drama," and I've been lurking here since the OB days.

It would take a lot of evidence to convince me that this shitstorm is going to end up being productive.

8mattnewport11yAgreed. Post-grad vocabulary, pre-school behaviour.
-3SilasBarta11yI don't disagree. My goal in all of this is to make it so that Alicorn and I don't have to treat each other like enemies anymore -- so she can reply to my comments, and I to hers. To end this drama, in other words. And that really is the long and short of it. For various reasons I'm having trouble understanding, Alicorn is committed to not relaxing her shunning of me. I consider this inconsistent of her and unproductive, for much the same reasons you give. I would love for the hostility to end too, because it's pretty stupid that people can't publicly reply to each other on a message board. They should try to resolve past difference. ("You first" doesn't count as trying, IMHO.) It's not that I have a reason why I want to reply to Alicorns comments specifically; it's just that the whole charade of having to take circuitous routes to posting because of the presence of the other is just ... stupid. If Alicorn and a mediator want to come to a (private, online) bargaining table so we can understand and settle our differences, great! That would take the talk off the main, and eliminate the basis for me calling Alicorn inconsistent. Finding a mediator is the easy part. Getting my committment to such talks is easy too. All that's left is ...
4cupholder11yI suspect I'll regret getting sucked into this topic, but curiosity forces me to ask: if you think Alicorn is acting unreasonably, why not just resume replying to her comments as and when you want? She doesn't have any special editor/moderator powers to prevent you from doing so, as far as I can tell.
-4SilasBarta11yWhy don't you ask all the other people who have been criticizing me what they think of this advice? Or check out the last time I tried that.
0cupholder11yI don't (at least, not yet) have much interest in what they think of this advice, although I am curious about what they did when you tried it. So if you have a link to what happened 'last time,' I'll check it out.
-5SilasBarta11y
3SilasBarta11yFutilely request rational explanation for downmod.

Quit posting on this subject. Please. I didn't downvote you, but I will downvote any more posts on the topic by anyone.

4Violet11yThe whole affair smells quite a lot like harassment and someone not being content when asked to stop.
1SilasBarta11yWho not being content when asked to stop? Me, or [http://lesswrong.com/lw/19d/the_anthropic_trilemma/14xl] Alicorn [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1a8/oy_girls_on_lw_want_to_get_together_some_time/15bo] ? First link: Later, in the second link: 1) Alicorn wanted me to explain something to her that had a lot of emotional significance. 2) I refused. 3) Alicorn kept asking. 4) Finally finding herself on the receiving end in one of these situations, she seeks to "get back" by withholding her replies from me. But I'm sure there are other interpretations. In any case, whatever you might say of me at least Alicorn was being "excessively persistent" when asked to stop ... well, at least by the standards she expects out of everyone else.
2cousin_it11ySeconded.
2CronoDAS11yThirded.
2Kaj_Sotala11yFourthed.
2Bindbreaker11yFifthed.
-2[anonymous]11yWho found the post useful? Alicorn didn't.
8JoshuaZ11yOk. I've just downvoted you for at this point borderline trolling. There are lot of people here who aren't Alicorn. I'm not going to bother discussing your claim that Alicorn didn't benefit from this since there's already enough people wasting time on that in your main subthread. So I'll simply note that I am at least one person who found Alicorn's post very useful. I've used a technique much like what Alicorn layed out here but she makes multiple points that a) allow me to consciously understand what I'm doing better and b) to improve on some aspects of that technique. Since there are 30 upvotes for the post, I'm pretty sure that multiple other people found this useful (it is possible that some of those votes are due to perceived status but given the anonymous nature of upvoting it seems unlikely that more than a few of them are). Please stop damaging the signal to noise ratio.
-2[anonymous]11yComment deleted, it was not the right place to register such disagreement. Still, you gotta admit it gave you a chance to jump on the bandwagon, get a little more karma, right? ;-)

I'm not sure I want to like more people all that much.

I have a generally cheerful disposition, and I have no trouble with civility toward those I dislike. There have been people who clearly disliked me whom I thought well of nonetheless; I've met me, and I recognize this particular combination of attributes isn't to everyone's taste.

But I've never had a situation where I wanted to make an effort to like someone who I didn't like. I think the goals here are typically anti-productive, assuming reasonable socialization skills and some pre-existing friends.

It is useful to like people. For one thing, if you have to be around them, liking >them makes this far more pleasant. For another, well, they can often tell, and if >they know you to like them this will often be instrumentally useful to you.

Let's take a look at these advantages:

  1. More pleasant. Yes, true. Point well taken.

  2. Puppeteering. OK, maybe a bit too harsh, but "instrumentally useful," sounds like that. I certainly want people to do lots of things, but I don't usually trade in on personal relationships quite that way.

Disadvantages:

  1. Personal rot. There are qualities in people that it is unwise to ove
... (read more)
9Alicorn11yIt is useful to me that my family buys me Christmas presents. This is because, every year, I receive items that it is good for me to have. This in no way diminishes the warmth, affection, and sincerity of the gifts. Similarly, the fact that it is useful to like people need not diminish the warmth, affection, and sincerity of that liking. I don't think you should overlook dangerous qualities. For instance, I know a guy who is basically diagnoseably psychotic. He is great to have as a friend because he supplies good music recommendations and has encyclopedic knowledge of the intricacies of D&D rules and how to break them, but I do not want him to know where I live. The fact that he will never get my address if I can help it doesn't prevent me from liking and appreciating his good qualities. (Incidentally, I don't like this guy "on purpose". He's quite amusing enough to be liked naturally. But I still wouldn't have him over for tea.) Liking people is not counterproductive to changing their changeable behaviors. If I like someone, and they're busily hoisting themselves by their own puppy-stomping petard, I will do my best to help them improve themselves. This is in their interests, which I will care about furthering because I like them. If someone I don't like is practicing net negative behaviors, I'm inclined to stand back and watch them go up in flames as the backlash hits. Do you have any stories about helping folks you don't like to be better people that you couldn't have managed if you'd liked them?
4JRMayne11y1. The usefulness may not reduce the sincerity of the liking, but it certainly reduces the depth. If Steve gives me stuff, and I like him because of that usefulness, and then Steve stops giving me stuff... JRM no more like Steve. Viewing friendships as exchanges isn't evil or wrong, but if it's usefulness that's the prime driver, that's a different sort of friendship than one I really want. 2. There are qualities that are troublesome that aren't physically dangerous. Affiliating yourself mentally with people who don't care so much about the truth is likely to rub off. I'd like to think of myself as a particularly resilient and incorruptible person, but there's a certain necessary diligence to retain that self-view (which I believe is related to actual resilience and incorruptibility.) 3. On liking people not being counterproductive to changing behaviors: You might be right. I was considering the (perhaps) increased willingness to tolerate troublesome behavior and the reward function of friendships coming to those who are troublesome in some serious way. It may depend on the people involved. Or I might just be wrong. 4. I think when we look at petty problems to determine dislikes (She likes the mundane and stupid American Idol, while I like the brilliant and intellectual Top Chef), that is indeed counterproductive. But most of the limited number of people I take an active dislike to.... I don't want to try to be their friends. At all. And I think the world is a better place for my lack of trying. 5. I think the more serious and common error is to put up with malfeasing people past the point it's reasonable. I also think people tend to trust statements from others overmuch, even when that person has a track record of untrustworthiness. For most, a post on "Staying Away From Hazardous Humans You Like," would be more beneficial.
2Alicorn11y1. I don't think this necessarily follows. If Steve stops giving you stuff, he's still the guy who gave you stuff; you can still value him for the generosity/skill at picking out gifts/thoughtfulness/etc. that he exhibited then; and you can still think kindly of him whenever you use something he gave you. 2. Can you go into more detail on how these things may rub off? 3. :) 4. I don't think you should be friends with everyone. But if you find that you do want to be friends with someone, it's good to be able to. 5. I believe or disbelieve or am suspicious of statements by others for reasons other than how much I like them. (I do factor in my model of how much they like me, as I believe people are less likely to lie to people they like; but this doesn't affect their epistemic hygiene, their background knowledge, their skills at rationality, or their susceptibility to fallacy.)
1JoshuaZ11yI could conceive of situations where friends would be more likely to lie than strangers. A friend may lie about their actions if they care about your opinion of them and not care as much about the stranger's opinion of them. However, it may very well be that people who I like practice better epistemic hygiene. Indeed, I've found simply being around people who are more careful thinkers forces one to switch into a more careful thinking mode, because if you don't, they'll tear you into little tiny pieces. However, that probably doesn't matter that much since detailed interaction can probably get you a better idea of how the person thinks more than this rough heuristic.
6HughRistik11yI'll try to explain what I view as the advantages of liking people. It's instrumentally useful to give people the perception that you like them: they are more likely to like you, and to want to cooperate with you. Probably the best way to give people the perception that you like them is to actually like them. Yes, I agree. As someone with high Agreeableness and Openness, I've been burned in the past for being too trusting of people. This tendency is why people with high Agreeableness need to learn certain skills (alluded to by SarahC [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2a5/on_enjoying_disagreeable_company/22bv], including a healthy amount of suspicion. Similarly, Disagreeable people may need to learn to be more trusting and open towards people. Otherwise, even though they might avoid getting burned, they might shortchange themselves on positive interactions and connections with people. An emotionally Agreeable person applying cognitive cynicism, and an emotionally Disagreeable person applying cognitive openness, could have the same estimates of people's trustworthiness; they are just coming from different routes. Well, the best way to be nice is probably to genuinely like people. I agree with you that adopting such an attitude has risks; I just think that if you can mitigate those risks, an attitude of Agreeableness combined with some cognitive caution towards people and their motives, is a powerful combination in our society.
5cousin_it11yHmm. I've found that it's most effective to give people the perception that you're having fun and not judging them. The best way to give a perception like that is to actually have fun and conceal any snap judgments you make. This tactic doesn't seem to have the downsides of liking the wrong people.

I've noticed that I sometimes have this problem. However, there's a bright side that makes it slightly easier: I've found that generally if I have a pragmatic reason to enjoy someone's company that's generally some major positive trait (e.g. only expert on a certain topic around me, is a better chess player than anyone else around, is the only other Go player around, etc.) This provides a positive trait to start with.

The whole thing about the understanding that other humans have circumstances that help explain actions also is something that's been nagging at the back of my mind for a while as somewhat similar. The phrasing here about using it to actively assume that people had good reasons for their behavior made it click more. There's an old tradition in Judaism about trying to assume that people mean well and when one sees something negative one should assume extenuating circumstances not apparent to you. This idea was heavily promoted by among other people the Chofetz Chaim (he was a major Rabbi living around 1900). Sometimes this sort of view was pushed to points where something is just actively anti-rational (ridiculously contrived stories are sometimes told to Orthodox kids t... (read more)

2cousin_it11yThis is interesting. Not knowing much about Judaism, I want to ask: do those "ridiculously contrived stories" teach you to be in denial even when a fellow tribe member does something wrong to you, or is it only about wrongs done to other people?
6JoshuaZ11yIt varies. These stories as commonly told seem to actually focus more on what would be here labeled as ritual rather than moral law more than anything else. (For example one such story is about a man is seen buying bacon at a store but it turns out he was buying it because his wife is pregnant and had a craving.) Empirically when this sort of heuristic is applied in the real world it applies generally when there are actual victims but the one engaging in the bad behavior in question is of high status (frequently either a rich philanthropist or a Rabbi) and the victims are either of low status (for example, converts, potential converts, children, mamzerim (Edit: They are a technical class of bastards who are somewhat discriminated against in ultra-orthodox settings)) or the victims are an abstract collection (frequently the government if it is say tax fraud). It might help to give two recent concrete examples. Leib Tropper [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leib_Tropper] is an ultra-Orthodox Rabbi who it turned out was sexually exploiting women whose conversion he was supervising. Despite the existence of actual recorded phone conversations being circulated, repeated denial of any wrong-doing was a common refrain in the ultra-Orthodox world. Similarly, during the ongoing Rubashkin [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Rubashkin] scandal with Agriprocessors, much of the Orthodox community has decided that they really aren't guilty or are not guilty of anything that major. The stories in this case they've decided to tell are conspiratorial and portray the US federal prosecutors as somewhat similar to the government of Czarist Russia.
1xamdam11yNice to see a fellow yeshiva bochur here ;) I agree with your concerns about corrupting your rationality via this exercise. Even if it's instrumentally a benefit. I would require some proof that this is a good thing. I would use this in limited situation where the "lack of like" is probably due to accidental factors that do not really reflect on the the person. To mention another famous Rabbinical story, a talmudic rabbi had a wife who, ahem, was kind of evil and always did the opposite of request. His son suggested to ask her to cook the said rabbi's Least Favorite food in order to get what he really wanted. The Rabbi was excited by the idea at first (I guess he hasn't thought of it??) but then commented that they should not do this because of "limdu lashonam dvar sheker" - "their tongues have learnt to speak falsely", so lying instrumentally will lead to further corruption, as I understand this. BTW the original injunction of "Dan lekaf zchus" - "benefit of doubt" in approximate translation - comes from Ethics of the Fathers, and I believe one of the major commenters (R.Yonah IIRC) suggested, essentially, giving heavy weight to the prior: if the person is generally good you should try to explain an apparently bad act, and vice versa! you should explain an apparently good act of a bad person UNfavorably. Pretty sane thought.
5JoshuaZ11yI'm not sure. One can see how this goes wrong in Talmudic contexts. For example, there are a lot midrashim that explain away apparently good behavior by Esau and Ishmael, and there are a lot of midrashim that explain away or try to justify apparently bad or deceptive behavior by Jacob. Yet, a simple reading of the Biblical text shows that what is actually happening is that these just aren't 1 dimensional characters. So this general tendency can be actively distorting. Edit: For others reading, midrashim are a classical Jewish set of stories generally told in an interconnected fashion to fill in apparent gaps in the Biblical stories.
0NancyLebovitz11yI just ran across an interview [http://www.blogtalkradio.com/barbarasher/2008/02/17/live-the-life-you-love-with-barbara-sher] with Patti Newbold [http://www.assumelove.com/2006/02/four_steps_to_assume_love.html] applying the idea of assuming the best to marriage (with some caveats about not assuming the best when one is seriously mistreated).

I read your last section ("Note general failure mode: ...") with amusement as I have found myself following almost the exact train of thought several times recently.

It was an appreciated, although unpleasant, kick-in-the-teeth to realise that my thought process actually belied negative aspects to my character rather than positive ones.

Could I ask for advice then on reversing this situation? What internal monologue, or indeed actions, should be ideally followed based on a situation identical to the one given in the article.

4Alicorn11yI'd advise redoing the entire process, carefully and methodically. Note that the monologue I wrote doesn't include a single mention of the person's positive traits; it doesn't come up with a story to excuse the person's irksome behavior; and the behavior of the monologuer is not conducive to reaping cognitive dissonance, because she has a complete explanation in mind for why she's doing as she does (she is high-minded and tolerant and good) that doesn't involve liking the person. This means that if you get to that monologue, the steps I outline didn't "stick".

I don't have much to add, but in the spirit of Why Our Kind Can't Cooperate, I want to state that I've found this post very insightful and very useful. Thanks for posting!

Being able to pick out positive traits in people that you might otherwise not be able to stand will help you win in several ways: 1) You'll enjoy life more; 2) You'll get more people on your side; 3) You'll have more access to different modes of thought which, while they may be wrong, can help strengthen the foundations of your own ideas.

This actually does work. I tested it out in my day... (read more)

I liked this post - particularly the way it leads you to critique your own inner thought life. I do have some of these habits - particularly noticing interesting or admirable characteristics in people who might be difficult in other ways.

But I do disagree with the idea of making excuses for the other person. Certainly we should be rational enough to realise we don't know exactly why the other person is ignoring me, or driving like a moron, or not showing any consideration to anyone. Perhaps they have an excuse for it, but probably they don't. And in most o... (read more)

4stcredzero11yInsufficient data, though perhaps a reasonable heuristic. Many people do this, despite being able to afford a more expensive car. Why? Driving an older model high-end car is a good way to avoid the attention of thieves, while retaining a lot of utility. My 14 year old Mercedes has a feature set comparable to a recent model Corolla, but thieves will pay more attention to the Corolla. A car is also a bad place to put one's money. It's much better to buy a cheaper car and invest the difference.
2DuncanS11yI find it easy to agree with this as I've owned quite a few old cars myself (mostly by keeping a newer car for a long time). It really is just a heuristic. It's not even a heavily weighted heuristic for me - I take much more notice of driving errors like wandering across lane dividers than the age of the vehicle. But driving is probably the most dangerous thing I do and it's worth taking as much statistical advantage as I can get....
0stcredzero11yRight. It's not like the false positives are going to bite you in that context. False negatives might be pretty serious.
2Jowibou11yI know plenty of very smart people who have old crummy cars that get them from A to B and act as pretty effective countersignals.

These are useful skills to apply to everyone, if you're at all concerned with being "fair" to people. But intentionally selective application of them just strikes me as throwing epistemic hygiene concerns to the wind. Liking the target had better be important.

6Kaj_Sotala11yThese techniques don't seem to be in conflict with epistemic hygiene or epistemic rationality to me. They're modifying emotions, not knowledge.
3loqi11yI was talking about the means, whereby one alters one's "search priorities" when seeking to understand situations involving the target. This sort of selective perception may not be a direct corruption of existing knowledge, but it still constitutes an attention bias akin to privileging a hypothesis. I agree that the emotional aspect isn't relevant to my concern, though I could imagine having instrumental qualms somewhat analogous to the above.
4Kutta11yFair point. The logical reply to this issue would be a detailed account how to select candidates and precisely when to apply the techniques, although the differences of individuals' utility functions make it harder to convey useful advice. Perhaps Alicorn did good by presenting only the techniques, leaving us the task of weighing instrumental benefits/costs and risks of epistemic distortion.

It is my impression that people generally have an epistemic distortion already and Alicorn's advice would help them overcome it. When we justify our own actions, we place a weight on circumstances and give ourselves a fair benefit of the doubt. When we look for the reasons for other people's actions we often do not know, care to know or just plain care about what the circumstances were. No benefit of the doubt here. Reversing this bias seems a good and healthy thing to do. Judge others as you would judge yourself may sound simple but it takes the sort of persistence that Alicorn outlines.

0realitygrill11yThe FAE is an epistemic distortion both ways (as I interpret it). Actively inducing a liking of someone appears to be shoving the lever in the other direction, replacing one bias with another.

On an on-topic note, I really liked this post. I can confirm that being able to like people is instrumentally useful. Due to high Agreeableness and Openness, I like everyone by default. It's difficulty for me to explain how I do this, because it's probably done through my personality hardware. I have to try to not like people. But I'll see if I can think of any ways to articulate my cognition on this subject.

6[anonymous]11yI'm the same way, in fact. Sometimes I've deliberately amplified my dislike of people just so I can assert values of my own. I do that by noticing small irritations and internally vocalizing them -- "Man, I hate how Billy Bob takes so long to get moving. He's always double-checking every little thing. I prefer to be a little less anal-retentive." You start by noticing that you're irritably tapping your foot, and then you work it up into a whole worldview. I do this intentionally because I've often found myself unhappy in some people's company, even when I think I like them, and the unhappiness becomes much more tolerable if I think of it as a reasonable response to irritating behavior, as opposed to a nameless flaw in myself. (Example: my parents often got under my skin. Complaining about them to friends, and believing myself justifiably irritated, made it a lot more bearable.) Irritation is actually a "high" emotion -- irritation, as well as elation, is a symptom of mania -- and in fact I've found that irritation is almost an opposite of unhappiness. It's also a cognitive emotion of a sort. Irritation is expressing your own opinions in contrast to other people's, which is something we high-Agreableness folks need to encourage in ourselves, to avoid being wimps and pushovers. So, I'd expect, if you wanted to go the opposite direction, you'd do what I do by default -- don't vocalize the irritation. Don't regard yourself as being entitled to irritation; it's a mosquito bite, which will stop itching if you don't think about it. Billy Bob must be so slow and careful because he has a good reason for it. Make yourself "small." That's the best metaphor I can find for it. (Actually a Pirkei Avot metaphor, as I recall.) If you're "big" then you perceive other people constantly bumping into you and intruding on your personal space, but if you're "small" then nothing anybody can do is a personal insult or irritation, any more than a bird can bump into a fly. (I'm actuall
2kodos9611ySorry, that's not allowed on this thread ;)

I would be interested in fictional examples of when you might use this technique and how you might go about using it.

Okay, sure.

I move to a new town. I look and look and look for apartments, most of which are out of my price range, and finally find one that I can afford. Turns out, I can't stand my landlady. I have to pay her my rent in person, if I want anything in the place fixed I have to go through her, and if I have an issue with a neighbor that doesn't warrant calling the cops, I have to deal with her. Even if I wanted to move again so soon, it's been established that it's damn hard to find a place in this town - it'd take months, during which I'd have to interact with the landlady several times. It would be far more convenient and pleasant if I liked her.

So what don't I like about the landlady? Let's say she has a strong accent from her country of origin that I find challenging to understand; she's paranoid about people paying rent late and usually wants it early; she hires a plumber who leaves debris all over the place whenever he makes a repair; and she has an evil cat, which has bitten me. (Note that I made all these things up before coming up with stories about them.)

The accent represents the difficulty of learning a foreign language. I don't speak a second language at all - I'... (read more)

2rwallace11yThanks! Okay, that's pretty clear now, makes sense.
0mattnewport11yMe too. I have tried to think of a situation where I might find this useful and have drawn a blank. I have not had any problem in my professional life working reasonably productively with people who I do not particularly like and in my personal life I can't see why I would want to make myself like someone who I didn't 'naturally' like.

Alternative title: How not to be a protagonist in Atlas Shrugged.

To clarify, I liked the post.

I know that this is the sort of question you'd precisely expect from someone whose mental defenses were resisting the exercise, but it's still a valid possibility, prior probability ~1%: What if you suspect the person you're dealing with is actually a sociopath?

Learning to like a sociopath is actually extremely DANGEROUS---it opens you up to be exploited. Most people are not sociopaths of course, and if someone cuts you off in traffic it makes a lot more sense to attribute that to ordinary carelessness rather than extraordinary malice.

But in the particular... (read more)

4TheOtherDave9yI would say the most useful thing is to learn to protect myself from being exploited by sociopaths, whether I like them or not. After all, many sociopaths are genuinely likeable; I might find myself liking them without doing any of the work Alicorn discusses here. If I can do that, then liking them doesn't make them more dangerous to me than not liking them.
0pnrjulius9yHow do you protect yourself against a sociopath while still liking them? Also, how can you LIKE someone you know is a sociopath?
1TheOtherDave9yAssuming you meant that as a literal question... I protect myself from a sociopath the same way I protect myself from a non-sociopath whose interests require that they act against mine: by determining their threat capacity, making my best guesses as to their likely strategies, deciding on a strategy to counter them, and implementing that strategy. Whether I like them or not is in-principle-irrelevant, although of course it might affect my ability to do those things. I like someone I know is a sociopath more or less the same way I like someone I don't know is a sociopath: by unconsciously deciding that a social alliance with them would be cost-effective. (Or, in more conventional terms: "I dunno, I like who I like.")
1pnrjulius9yYour definition of "like" is apparently radically different from mine. I could very well form an alliance with a sociopath, if necessary for some greater goal. But liking someone, as I use the word, requires you to actually respect that person and their character, and believe that the ends they seek are (basically, reasonably) worth seeking. It requires you to trust them, to engage with them without fear that at any moment they might exploit you. I believe it was SMBC that said it best: "The enemy of my enemy is not my friend, he is my ally. The difference is you don't invite your allies out for ice cream." So on my meaning, it is impossible to like someone you know is a sociopath; and furthermore if you like someone who is a sociopath and you don't know, you are opening yourself up to be exploited. I guess you folks are free to use some other definition of "like" that doesn't require trust or respect... but surely this is not the standard definition?
1TheOtherDave9yWith respect to sociopaths, I mostly agree that knowing that someone is a sociopath pretty much precludes my being able to engage with them without fear of being exploited. (It doesn't preclude my ability to respect them, or to consider the ends they seek worth seeking, or to trust them in certain ways.) With respect to the meaning of "like", I frequently find myself liking people on brief acquaintance, long before I know very much about them, their character, what ends they seek, or their trustworthiness in any particular context. And it's not uncommon for me to lose respect for someone I like while continuing to like them. As far as I can tell from observation, other people frequently have similar experiences, and frequently use the word "like" to refer to those experiences, much as I do. So I'm fairly confident that it's the usage you describe here that's nonstandard. But I could be wrong, or it might be a regional/subcultural thing. For example, if a friend says "I met George at a party last night; I liked him" do you really understand your friend to mean that they know enough about George to make a reliable judgment about George's character and whether it merits respect, what ends George seeks and whether those ends are worth seeking, and George's trustworthiness? I would not understand them to mean that at all.
0CuSithBell9yIf this person is not "actually a sociopath", would learning to like him be the right thing to do?
0pnrjulius9yYes, if he's not actually a sociopath, it's probably worth learning to like him. But the odds of him being a sociopath are high enough that the expected utility doesn't point that way at all. The disutility of being exploited by a sociopath is far worse than the opportunity cost of not liking this one person.
0CuSithBell9yIt sounds like the reason you'd want to not like him if he's a sociopath is that then he'd probably exploit you - but don't you already know that he'll exploit you anyway?
0TwistingFingers9yI thought people like Tsundere?

That footnote about working on excusing the behavior of "bad drivers"* is good advice in general, and should probably be taught in driver's ed. I imagine if it was actually followed, incidences of road rage would plummet.

It's my goal to one day be able to do this most minor irritations, and to be able "to let what does not matter truly slide", or at least to the extent that I'm able.

*(I had to go back and add those quotes after I realized that without them I was doing exactly the opposite of that advice)

It may be useful to catalogue our responses by our respective big 5 factor psychological profiles. I have some tentative hypotheses in mind, particularly that Openness mitigates dislike of a person. (I'm off to retake the test)

EDIT: Thanks all. Do you mind adding your individual reactions to the top-level post in your replies?

1Cyan10yO0 C6 E5 A63 N37 My low Openness score is probably due to the fact that I feel like I haven't generated any truly original thoughts in a long time.
1simplicio11yDitto for me as for RobinZ. Openness: 84 Conscientiousness: 41 Extraversion: 31 Agreeableness: 90 Neuroticism: 27 I would seem to support realitygrill's idea, as I have a hard time disliking even people whom I know I ought to dislike.
0realitygrill11yThis is encouraging (I have the same feeling), but I have no idea what I am supposed to do with the idea. Obviously, first try to find people who would falsify it, but then what? I still want to know where the disagreeable LW-ers are. Come out, come out, wherever you are!
4pjeby10yApparently, I'm one: O59-C0-E37-A0-N80 - i.e. I have zero agreeability and conscientiousness. But, being such a disagreeable person, I'm inclined to dispute the validity of the test. ;-) After all, it directly asks you about traits, with questions that are pretty obviously correlated with the results. It therefore seems to be a test of your opinions about yourself, rather than being an actual test of yourself.
1Blueberry10yI've yet to see a test that avoids this problem. I really don't understand why tests like this and the Aspergers one, which will obviously vary dramatically with your moods, are considered to have any meaning at all.
2cupholder10yPsychologists tend to treat a test as having meaning when it has some form of ' validity [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Validity_%28statistics%29#Test_validity] ', 'validity' being the catch-all name for the different ways a psychologist might assess if a test looks meaningful. For example, some Big Five personality scores correlate with things like job performance [http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119346866/abstract], suggesting predictive validity. Whether this kind of validation can prove that a test has meaning will hinge on what you feel it means for a test to have meaning.
2ata10yIn that case we should probably taboo "meaning" (in this context) and talk directly about whatever it is we want a test to do — make clinically useful predictions, carve reality along its natural joints [http://lesswrong.com/lw/o0/where_to_draw_the_boundary/], etc.
0realitygrill10yStrangely enough, I'd only considered the 'validity' side - basically are the categories used universal? Somehow missed how biased self-reporting might be.
1simplicio11yCome out, come out, wherever you are... you wankers!
3AdeleneDawner11yIt occurs to me that disagreeable folks might be less inclined to do the work of finding the test when there's no apparent benefit to them in doing so. Here it is. [http://www.outofservice.com/bigfive/] Oh, and: * Openness: 76 * Conscientiousness: 8 * Extraversion: 2 * Agreeableness: 32 * Neuroticism: 11 I doubt I'll actually ever use this advice, though it sounds like it would work if I did. It's pretty rare for me to actually dislike people (though it is common for me to think that interacting with people wouldn't be worth the effort), and when I do find myself disliking someone, it's usually a pretty reliable sign that I should limit my contact with them. (E.g., the only co-worker that I disliked at my last job - on the basis that she seemed to be near-sociopathicly self-centered - was caught stealing from another co-worker when invited to a party that co-worker was hosting, and was fired from the job for stealing money from one of our volunteers' pocketbooks.) It may be noteworthy that my method of socializing is based more on openness - learning where the other person is coming from, having conversations about mutually interesting topics - rather than agreeableness, and I neither like nor dislike most of the people I consider friends.
0arundelo11yThanks! * Openness to Experience/Intellect 53 * Conscientiousness 58 * Extraversion 5 * Agreeableness 32 * Neuroticism 9 (Some of these results surprised me [to the extent that I put stock in this particular test].)
0RobinZ11yAccording to the first test I found (which was short, so big error bars): Openness: 35 Conscientiousness: 1 Extraversion: 83 Agreeableness: 79 Neuroticism: 84 ...it is weird seeing how extraverted I appear, knowing I was homeschooled with few social outlets growing up.
0realitygrill11yOpenness: 80 Conscientiousness: 1 Extraversion: 12 Agreeableness: 14 Neuroticism: 32 Hm, I remember my Openness, Conscientiousness, and (especially) Neuroticism being higher... bit distracted this time around. Anybody else disagreeable on LW?
0[anonymous]10ySeems so. O53 C5 E37 A22 N94.
0Vive-ut-Vivas11yI think your hypothesis is right. I just took the test now: Openness: 84 Conscientiousness: 13 Extraversion: 95 Agreeableness: 63 Neuroticism: 93 Not that I thought the test I took was particularly accurate, but as ballpark figures they mostly make sense.
0[anonymous]11yme: Openness: 84 Conscientiousness: 41 Extraversion: 15 Agreeableness: 74 Neuroticism: 84

Forgive me if this has been adressed elsewhere, but doesn't the knowledge that you are -trying- to like them get in the way of success? You will always know that you are liking them on purpose and applying these techniques to make yourself like them, so how do you avoid this knowledge breaking the desired effect?

1Blueberry11yWhy would that knowledge be a problem? Do cars stop working when you know how they work? Do you stop enjoying sex when you use birth control? In fact, it's more likely to be the other way. You know that you're putting in the effort to like them, so your mind will backwards rationalize that to conclude that they must be worth liking (or you wouldn't put in the effort).
2stcredzero11yI stop enjoying sex when the other person isn't really aroused. The mechanisms for detecting affect evolved before language and abstract cognition. There is good reason to believe that it takes a whole lot of effort to alter or falsify them. These mechanisms are tools, we are stuck with them, so it behooves us to use them optimally. I think trying to like someone is suboptimal. Someone trying to like me is like a rapid-onset smile. Someone who simply likes me is like a slow-onset smile. Instead of trying to like things because it's instrumentally useful, I think it's far better to strive for optimal instrumentality from one's liking. The former would be like learning about a genre of music because it's popular. The latter is like delving into a genre of music because one finds it moving. Great things come out of the latter. Mediocrity comes out of the former. (Underlying this debate is the erroneous notion of the "blank slate." Our emotions are not a blank slate. They are a finely tuned processing and guidance mechanism, just not tuned for our present circumstances.)
0Jowibou11yIdeally wouldn't this be a loop, rather than either/or?
2JoshuaZ11yThat isn't a good analogy. Many humans have trouble actively trying to change their own emotional or belief states. The analogy that might be more appropriate is trying to deceive oneself into believing a false statement. I don't think that the analogy quite holds either liking someone is much closer to an emotional setting. It is thus closer to someone say deliberately conditioning themselves in some way. Even if you know, you are doing it, you can still use fairly primitive conditioning. But Nanani's question is one that still requires some response: the car analogy is not sufficient.

I find it very hard to actually dislike any particular person in a concrete sense. Abstractly, a trait or a group? Sure. Otherwise, "tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner", right? I might actually lean too far in this direction.. my mind immediately jumps to defend perceived faults by inventing possible reasons for them.

However, I've never been able to cultivate admiration, just grudging respect.

Having a whole project around liking someone seems like too much effort to me. Why do it? I'm more likely to find a less perception-based solution. (I am ... (read more)

1apophenia11yHow did you train yourself not to be ticklish? My life would benefit if I weren't ticklish.
9realitygrill11yStory, then tl;dr follows - Tickling was a major weapon amongst kids I played with back when I was in elementary school (along with pinching, but only girls did that). I had the notion that "this would never do!" and "I have to worry about this all the time!" Somehow that got it in my head to try to desensitize myself to tickling. I'd heard that it was impossible to tickle yourself, and after TRYING it, I took a guess: maybe it was because you already knew where and how you were going to be tickled? Iteration 1: Quickly tickle myself by randomly flailing my arms at various places on my body. No dice. Iteration 2: Notice that I'd synchronized my arms in the first iteration. Tried desynch-ing them. Still no good. Iteration 3: Tried also using a feather in one hand. Nope. Iteration 4: Closed my eyes in the process. I could feel the ticklish feeling! Iteration 5: Did all of the above in an extremely dark, closed closet. Worked! After I figured this out, I repeated the process a few times while gradually slowing down the speed of tickling. I've been non-ticklish since then. Caveats: some sensitivity has come back in my feet; less so around my stomach; I do not recall how ticklish I was before this desensitization. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- tl;dr - I sat in a dark closet, with a feather in my hand, closed my eyes, and proceeded to flail my arms/fingers randomly at myself
1apophenia11yLike RichardKennaway, I can already tickle myself on Iteration 1. I'm not sure I would normally want to try this method, since my initial goal is not to be tickled as I find it unpleasant. (I can't sit through a massage either because it tickles.) In the interest of self-experimentation, I'll give it a go. Richard, as a control could you stand in a dark closet and lift your shirt for ten minutes? I am at least half kidding.
0realitygrill11yI wish I had a better suggestion besides, "try going very very slowly at first - maybe just one finger." I mean, surely you can touch yourself without bursting out laughing?
2RichardKennaway11ySeconded. I'd like to hear this as well. I am ticklish enough to be able to tickle myself, popularly supposed to be impossible.
[-][anonymous]11y 0

Anyway probably my biggest concern with cryonics is that if I was to die at my age (25), it would probably be in a way where I would be highly unlikely to be preserved before a large amount of decay had already occurred. If there was a law in this country (Australia) mandating immediate cryopreservation of the head for those contracted, I'd be much more interested.

[-][anonymous]11y 0

Speaking of abnormal and cyronics:

Britney Spears allegedly wants to sign up with Alcor: http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/entertainment/britney-spears-wants-to-be-frozen-after-death_100369339.html

[+][anonymous]11y -13